I met my best friend in a parking lot about 11 years ago.
The situation that drew me there we can skip. The important thing to tell is that although there were others around, he was the only one I was immediately attracted to. I don’t know if it was how he stumbled toward me after our eyes met, the rebel way his hair was askew, his half smile, or maybe all of it. Regardless, I’ve always been drawn to divergent spirits, individuals who know exactly what they want (most of the time), but have a tender vulnerability right below the surface – like this guy.
Have you ever connected with someone so quickly it felt like you’d known them for years? That’s what happened to me. A few minutes after we met, we had our arms around each other, looking like long lost friends. The warmth he generated within the center of my body was intoxicating.
He ended up coming back to my place that night. He had no where else to go.
After I helped him into a spare bed, he rolled onto his side, let out a long sigh, and fell fast asleep. Considering the evening’s events, I figured he wouldn’t wake until noon. Wrong. He was up early the next morning as if the day was made for him. He was running around the kitchen getting ready for breakfast, chattering and smiling the whole time. I’d never seen such positive energy, especially for guy who had just been kicked out by his family.
One day turned to two, then three. There really wasn’t much choice in the matter. My new friend needed a place where he could feel safe.
Having long term visitors is nothing new for our family. My new friend joined a long list of displaced souls who we’ve shared our home with over the years. In fact, I really can’t remember a time when we haven’t had someone staying with us – sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes years.
My new friend has been with us for more than a decade now. He’s family.
We do quite a few things together during the course of a week. After a long day protecting the chaparral and the fellow mortals we share the earth with, we often find a movie and just zone out for the evening. He doesn’t really care what we watch. In fact, most of the time he ends up falling asleep next to me. It gives me a chance to run my fingers through his hair. He usually pulls away when I do that in public.
I think the secret to our relationship is that it doesn’t matter what’s happened in his life during the day, or in mine, he’s always happy to see me. Always. He makes me feel like a rock star when we’re together, even when I wake him in the morning or during one of his afternoon naps. He looks up, rubs his face in a way that just melts my heart, and literally says with his eyes, I love you. There’s no judgement, no expectation, none of the usual small talk that often occurs when people meet each other. He doesn’t care where I’ve been, how long I’ve been, or what I’ve done. He’s just happy to see me. Period.
There’s a bench in the backyard where we sit together. When I used to get overwhelmed a lot, I’d lean over and whisper in his ear that I wished I was him. I wanted to feel the simple joy he felt all the time. He would look at me with those eyes, reminding me to listen to the birds, to breathe the cooling air, and to feel the dirt under my feet, by doing the same.
Sitting on the bench is different now. I hear the birds, taste the air, and wiggle my toes in the dirt. I’ve learned to embrace what’s happening, what we’re doing, right then, with the full measure of my attention. When I do slip back into worry, an inevitable detour for any conscious animal, I’m able to catch myself. It gets easier to readjust my focus every time. Practice makes, possible.
We’ve never actually talked about any of this. When my friend is with me, it’s just me. When he’s off doing other things, nothing exists but those other things. I’ve learned from his example.
About that independent streak of his, yes, it comes out, but in the most endearing way. He just asks what he needs when he needs it. And he always does so with a please, either by a subtle sound, a look, or a touch. And if I can’t give it to him, he occupies himself with some other task. This guy has no idea what rejection, resentment, or guilt means. I think he just figures it’s my problem that I can’t respond or understand what he wants. If I come around, he acts like it was my idea the whole time. I’m never the victim of his pent up emotions, or ghosts of regrets past. He doesn’t have any.
There are, however, limits to his patience. But even with that, he just creates an environment in which I have no other choice than to do what he wants, and enjoy doing so. His method is simple – polite perseverance through measured escalation. First he’ll stare. Then he’ll let out a sigh. If that doesn’t work, he’ll move closer, eventually voicing a deep “hurr-rummph!” Ultimately, if I don’t respond the way he wants, he’ll get physical, but in a gentle way. He’ll put his hand on my leg. If I’m holding something in my hands, he’ll playfully try knock it out. His final move is grabbing my pant leg, dragging me into submission.
I received a postcard from his doctor yesterday about his senior checkup. It reminded me that we’ve been friends for eleven years. It got me thinking about whether or not I’ve made it clear to him how much he means to me – how much I love him. I’m going to do that today.
As I am writing this last bit, he just walked by to say hello. Those expressive eyes, the soft eyebrows set off by slightly auburn shades, and that tail, waving away all the mental clutter that I had accumulated in the room, are tonics to my soul. Nothing else matters in this moment but him and me – unconditional love.
Why do our pets, especially our dogs, make us feel so good?
They help us feel warm, secure, and accepted because they allow us to tap into deeply embedded needs and sensations that have been shaped over millions of years of evolution. They tap into our atavistic connection with Nature, with other live forms. They excite our collective subconscious, the rhythms and patterns that kept us safe long ago when the wild was our home.
The feelings you feel when your dog snuggles up next to you, greets you at the end of the day, and comforts you during times of uncertainty, were all born when both of you sat together by the hearth, warmed by the flame, safe in the dark.
They reflect a bond that transcends our conscious selves. It’s a bond that provides one of the most direct, simplest ways to connect with our ancestral past, our home in the wilds, our kinship with all life.
Let your dog know you know, the next time you’re together. It won’t take much. Your friend understands more about you than you think.
Thanks so much for sharing this lovely essay with us Rick.
Cooper is why dog spelled backwards is God.. pure Love, joy and inspiration!
When I got to the part about your friend needing to see his doctor for a checkup, it suddenly dawned on me…he’s a dog!! Before then, I had thoughts of forwarding your essay to my friend Linda in Austin but hesitated because, well, she might think you’re kind of weird. There’s nothing that compares to having such a loyal, devoted buddy, I couldn’t be without mine. I think I’ll send your essay to Linda. Thank you so much for those beautifully expressed words.
Thank you Rick for sharing this essay! You Rock! For Sure!
Thank you for sharing your influence, it helps!
Quite likely the best ode to a canine companion that I’ve read. And the photos, I love them! Here’s to many more happy years with Coops.
Thank you, Alex. I’ve been inspired by your love for Toni as well.
Oh so sweet! Sentiments any lover of their canine companion feels every day.
Rick, this story, like others you have written, touched my heart … and caused my eyes to leak. I’ll tell you about that sometime soon. You are the best writer I know. Thank you for this touching story about you and Cooper.
Thank you, Al. Let’s get together soon at the new Institute digs 🙂
I would like that. I am traveling now and am currently in Washington visiting my daughter. Don’t know where we will go from here. The open road is calling. I will contact you soon after I get back.
I read this on a rainy morning sitting between my two doodles. You’ve described them exactly, to a T or D.
I can’t imagine losing one of them.
Thank you for the wisdom. It helps with the worry about wildfire down here in San Diego County.
Thank you, Dave. Our furry companions return so much to us. Cooper has a rough patch this past week. It appears to have been the canine influenza, a virus that is going around now in San Diego County. It wasn’t a happy time… no eating, drinking, ability to walk was compromised. But he has bounce back the last couple days. A true Happy New Year!
Flu is not fun for man or beast. My best to Cooper.